This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at the way we used to create current and retro rosters for NBA Live.
Back when we were the NBA Live Series Center, our founders described the site as “the official home of the Roster Patches and the NBA Live Editors for Windows”. In those days, there were no official rosters pushed through by EA Sports, and limited in-game editing facilities. Modding existed before the NLSC, and the PC versions of NBA Live for that matter, but it’s fair to say that the efforts of Tim, Lutz, and Brien were instrumental in bringing the hobby to the virtual hardwood. It certainly blew my mind when I discovered the NLSC, and I was inspired to make my own rosters.
Of course, even with the editors that our founders created, it wasn’t always easy. I’ve talked about the technical aspects of editing those early games, and some of the tools that made it possible. In this week’s Wayback Wednesday, I’d like to reflect on the process of making rosters; in other words, how we found the necessary information that made those projects possible. It’s a process that’s become a lot easier as online resources have expanded, but back then, we had to hunt around a little more. Let’s take a look back…way back…
Let’s start out with current rosters. As long as sports games have offered the ability to modify rosters, avid gamers have updated them to reflect the current season, trading and creating players where necessary. That wasn’t a complicated process, but keeping up with the latest transactions, statistics, and results wasn’t as easy with the resources we had at the time. The World Wide Web was still in its relative infancy, so news didn’t travel as fast. We had to rely on traditional media: newspapers, television, and of course, basketball magazines. Season previews were extremely helpful for their recaps of offseason moves, while shows such as NBA Action kept us up to date.
Team roster and transaction listings could be found on NBA.com, but they weren’t always updated quickly, particularly when it came to information such as a player’s new uniform number. That’s assuming you had Internet access, and even if you did, chances were your dialup plan didn’t allow you to browse for hours at a time like we can now. That’s where NBA Action and the monthly magazines came in handy for keeping up to date as the season progressed. The lack of readily available up-to-the-minute stats and results did mean that we had to use some estimates when it came to player ratings, based on whatever data we were actually able to get our hands on.
By the turn of the century, online resources were much better and more plentiful. It was easier to keep up with the latest news, results, and stats, and remain informed about player movement and performance. Maintaining rosters was still a lot of work as far as creating missing players and staying on top of the latest moves, but it was much quicker and easier to find the information that we needed. When it came to retro rosters, however, things were a bit more complicated. Those projects involved finding detailed information about older players and NBA seasons, and it took a while for all the necessary information to be compiled in readily available online resources.
Before we could jump online and look up anything and everything on the wonderful resource that is Basketball Reference, we had to look elsewhere for information about historical players, teams, and seasons. That meant consulting almanacs, as well as the official NBA encyclopedia and back issues of basketball magazines. Another source of information was basketball trading cards. The common cards not only provided us with pictures of the players, but also their career stats and bio data. I recall this being particularly useful when I was updating NBA Live 96’s rosters for the 1997 season, as I found out what a lot of the later picks in the Draft looked like from trading cards.
Funnily enough, these methods weren’t just used by modders, but also the developers of old basketball games. Even though developers had the NBA license, as recounted in our chats with Tim Kitzrow and Josh and Dave from Namo Gamo, they still had to scrounge for information; especially when it came to teams and players that didn’t get a lot of national exposure. It’s why you’ll find inaccuracies and odd ratings in older basketball games. Sometimes it’s due to simple oversight, but it was often due to them working from limited resources that may have had errors. The NBA could’ve provided much of the relevant info, but video games weren’t nearly as big of a deal back then.
The situation would come full circle as old basketball games themselves came to be used as resources for retro rosters. On one hand, they were easy to refer to for player data and team lineups, and to be fair, they could provide a lot of useful information. On the other hand, if there were any inaccuracies, we ended up replicating them in our projects, as I did with my 1996 season mods for NBA Live 2001 and NBA Live 2004. Though referring to NBA Live 96 did allow for a good amount of accuracy, the game includes players who ended up being cut without ever playing that year, while some key players were missing entirely. As such, it wasn’t a completely reliable source.
It’s why I went back and released an updated version of my 1996 mod for NBA Live 2004, and why I might do the same for some other old projects as we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of NBA Live. In Basketball Reference, I have a far more reliable source of information spanning the entire history of the NBA. Any future rosters that I make – be they current or historical – will be more accurate than any project I made all those years ago, because I can easily find and double-check any data that I need. I don’t have to worry about misprints, or incorrectly sourced data, or even have to wait very long to find out what I need to know. Such is the advantage of modding today.
That’s not to downplay the hard work we used to put into those rosters, or trash our efforts. We did the best we could with the information that was on hand, and it was still fun to both create and play with those mods. Additionally, while I certainly prefer having detailed and accurate information readily available, there’s a lot of nostalgia in the way we used to make rosters. It was a challenge to find all the information that we needed, and fun going through all those sources. It meant looking back at magazines and almanacs, firing up old games, and sorting through our trading cards. Maintaining current rosters meant keeping up with the real NBA in any and every way we could.
It did mean spending a lot of time trying to glean information that may not be entirely accurate however, so while I may feel nostalgic when I think back to those days, I much prefer the resources we now enjoy. It’s much quicker and easier to look up a player or team roster on Basketball Reference than it is to cross-reference info from Microsoft Complete Basketball with a trading card and an old video game. It’s great to get up-to-the-minute news about player signings from social media and consistently updated news sites, rather than wait until a new episode of NBA Action airs.
If there’s one thing I’d like to impress upon everyone with this look back at how we used to create rosters before Basketball Reference and other resources we now have, it’s how passionate we were about making those mods. We went to all those lengths because we wanted to make the best and most accurate rosters as possible, given the information we could find. When I look back some of my old projects, I can see inaccuracies that wouldn’t happen today, but I also see work that I can take pride in, knowing the lengths we all went to in order to make those mods. It’s not the way any of us would do it now, but back then, those methods made great things possible.